School Board of Nassau County, Florida v. Arline

PETITIONER:School Board of Nassau County
LOCATION:Nassau County School Board

DOCKET NO.: 85-1277
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 480 US 273 (1987)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1986
DECIDED: Mar 03, 1987

Brian T. Hayes – on behalf of the Petitioners
Charles Fried – Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal
George K. Rahdert – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Gene Arline could no longer teach elementary school because she had tuberculosis, a contagious disease. The superintendent of schools in Nassau County, Florida dismissed her after it became clear that her illness was recurrent. The school system did not grant her financial relief. Arline claimed in a federal district court that this violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits state-funded programs from denying relief to applicants solely because they are handicapped. The school conceded it dismissed her solely because of her illness, but contended that a contagious disease like tuberculosis did not qualify her as handicapped. The court ruled that the Act did not define contagious illnesses as handicaps, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed. It found that Arline was “otherwise qualified” to teach except for her illness, and ruled that this qualified her for handicapped benefits.


Does Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which provides relief to handicapped individuals, extend relief to individuals afflicted with contagious diseases?

Media for School Board of Nassau County, Florida v. Arline

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 03, 1986 in School Board of Nassau County, Florida v. Arline

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 03, 1987 in School Board of Nassau County, Florida v. Arline

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 85-1277, School Board of Nassau County, Florida versus Arline will be announced by Justice Brennan.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

This case is here on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is amended, prohibits a federally funded state program from discriminating against a handicapped person, solely by reasons of his or her handicapped.

The question for decision in this case, is whether a person affected with a contagious disease here tuberculosis, maybe considered a handicapped individual within the meaning of Section 504 and, if so, whether such an individual is otherwise qualified, the language of statute, to teach elementary school.

Respondent, Arline, taught elementary school in Nassau County, Florida for 13 years after she had been hospitalized for tuberculosis in 1957.

Reflection had been in remission for 20 years when it recurred in 1977.

She had three lapses in the next two years.

In 1979 the school board discharged her, saying they did not do so because she had done anything wrong but because of the continued recurrence of tuberculosis.

Respondent brought suit in Federal District Court, alleging that her discharge violated Section 504.

The District Court held that all there was no question that she suffers a handicapped, through it was nevertheless not a handicapped person under the terms of the statute.

The Court of Appeals reversed holding that persons with contagious diseases, are within the coverage of the Act and remanded the case with determination whether the risks of infection precluded respondent, from being otherwise qualified for her job and, if so, whether it was possible to make some reasonable accommodation for her in that teaching position or in some other position.

We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

We hold that the fact that the person with a record of impairment, as in the case of respondent, is also contagious does not remove that person from Section 504’s coverage.

To allow an employer to justify discrimination by distinguishing between a disease’s contagious affects and others and as physical affects in a patient, would be unfair, contrary to the Act in its legislative history, which demonstrates Congress’ concern about an impairment’s affect on others, and woule be inconsistent with Section 504’s basic purpose to ensure that a handicap individuals are not denied jobs because of the prejudice or ignorance of others.

The Act replaces such faithful reflective reactions with actions based on reasoned in medicate sound judgments, as it to whether contagious handicapped persons are otherwise qualified to do the job.

The United States argues that it is possible for a person to be simply a carrier of a disease, that is to be capable of spreading a disease without having a physical impairment or suffering from any other symptoms associated with a disease.

The United States contends that this is true in the case of some carriers of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome that is the AIDS virus.

On this premise, the United States concludes that discrimination solely in the basis of contagiousness, is never discrimination on the basis of a handicapped.

The argument is emplaced in this case because the handicap here, tuberculosis, arise both with physical impairment and the contagiousness.

This case does not present and we therefore do not reach the questions whether a carrier of a contagious disease such as AIDS would be considered to have a physical impairment or whether such as person could be considered, solely on the basis of contagiousness, a handicapped person as defined by the Act.

The Chief Justice joined by Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion.